Video of the Day: Norton Motorcycles’ history of success and failure

A very British look at some terrific motorcycles and terrible financial shenanigans

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Norton
The Norton Manx dominated Isle of Man TT racing

Great Bikes and Bad Business: A Brief History of Norton Motorcycles is one of the latest YouTube entries from On Yer Bike, a British motorcycle video producer.  This episode focuses on Norton, among the greatest motorcycle brands from the U.K., and as the title says, the great bikes it produced as well as the many business failures that beset it.

The company started before World War I by James Lansdowne Norton of Birmingham was the builder of champion motorcycles almost from the beginning, eventually dominating the rugged Isle of Man TT racing with its fast and balanced machines.  Norton also supplied more than 100,000 motorcycles to the British military during WWII.

The history of Norton – as told in very British style by On Yer Bike chronicler Paul Jayson (though he never does identify himself and whose scruffy beard looks totally out of control) – is also the story of the shysters and charlatans who took it over during its various times of financial need. 

But more than that is the magic of the mighty single-cylinder engines in their featherbed frames that thumped their way to repeated motorsport successes, the fabulous Dominators, Atlases and Commandos that found much popularity in the U.S., such innovations as the Isolastic frame that isolated engine vibration, and the Norton/Triumph hybrids that became known as Tritons, a stalwart of so-called café racers

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On Yer Bike has quite a few videos exploring motorcycles, past and present, which you can find on its YouTube channel homepage.

By the way, “on yer bike” is an old British expression that basically means “get outta here” or “beat it,” such as when somebody’s trying to tap you for a loan. 

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Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.

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